Not just an accident

By George Chen
July 25, 2011

By George Chen
The opinions expressed are the author’s own.

We’ve talked about whether China’s economy will have a soft or hard landing. In fact, what China needs is a pause. Lots of things in China may be moving way too fast. Including our trains.

On Saturday, at least 35 people died when a high-speed train smashed into a stalled train in eastern Zhejiang province, raising new questions about the safety of the fast-growing rail network. For a Reuters story, click here.

In my view, the train crash does not only raise doubts about China’s big ambitions and effort to build its high-speed train network. It also adds to people’s frustrations over the way the country is administered. Some political commentators have said the “accident” was not really an accident but an incident, which in the end may have corruption, irresponsibility and bureaucracy to blame for.

For investors, it could be a time to short on those high-speed train related stocks. The Ministry of Railways tried the best to regain trust from the nation’s frustrating passengers that China’s latest high-speed train technology is safe and advanced. Such declarations came less than 24 hours after the tragedy that the the entire country is now mourning.

I think the market has already given its response to the rail ministry — shares of China train equipment makers fell as much as 16 percent on Monday. Meanwhile, many investors began to refocus on airlines. For a related Reuters story, click here.

Chinese companies and stocks have been under growing pressure in the past months on a variety of factors related to safety and stability.

Are Chinese food companies safe? Can accounting records and the business performance of listed Chinese companies be simply stable, rather than subject to abrupt warnings of earnings revisions, or challenges by rating agencies over credibility problems?

When we talk about the safety of China, it’s not just about the safety of the country’s transportation. The big question is if China is morally safe.

The New York Times quoted a Chinese blogger as saying: “China, please stop your flying pace, wait for your people, wait for your soul, wait for your morality, wait for your conscience! Don’t let the train run out off track, don’t let the bridges collapse, don’t let the roads become traps, don’t let houses become ruins. Walk slowly, allowing every life to have freedom and dignity. No one should be left behind by our era.”

I will stop here and leave you to consider that.

George Chen is a Reuters editor and columnist based in Hong Kong.

Photo: An injured man receives medical treatment at a hospital after two carriages from a bullet train derailed and fell off a bridge in Wenzhou, Zhejiang province July 24, 2011 REUTERS/Aly Song


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

‘if China is morally safe?’ r u morally capable to make that comment?

Posted by reuterser | Report as abusive

now u r talking about freedom and dignity. why? becuase our government would save us from the train wreck?

Posted by reuterser | Report as abusive

and i will stop here and ask: consider wat? consider ur deeds and acts.

Posted by reuterser | Report as abusive

You only have to check with Due Diligence the Chinese companies that seek money from US investors by listing on the US exchanges.
Many of the companies are shams and of those that aren’t, a significant number are totally corrupt. Mr Paulson wasn’t alone in getting caught out.
You can guarantee there’s Party Official in the mix, looking after the boss.
Whereas corruption is treated harshly if it affects the State, if it brings in $$ to individuals, the Chinese Authorities don’t worry.
I now believe that the Economic Miracle isn’t as firm as most of us think.

Posted by eachtohisown | Report as abusive

The problem today is people. They multiply way too fast. Too many left behind.

Posted by miltonibt | Report as abusive


Less foam, more talk.

Go slam some 方便面 and play more with your phone, that way you stay oblivious until you’re needed. People should be functioning on a higher level than you to be playing on foreign websites.

Posted by dzoo35 | Report as abusive

They dumped Confucious, this leads to the morality crisis. Communism and predatory capitalism cannot replace Confucianism in building a moral society. The vacuum needs to be filled fast.

Posted by Bensony | Report as abusive

Worthless Chinese government lackeys, like @Reuterser, should have been attending to safety.

Instead of trying to deflect criticism on websites.

Western companies & governments take a lot of time, listen to people, try and make sure things are safe. Democracy is a process for people to influence the rich & powerful, to try avoid these problems.

Stupid man try avoid criticism, try avoid democracy. Just take longer to learn lesson & cause more problem in meantime.

Posted by ThomasW | Report as abusive

I rarely like to comment about China – a huge country with immense potential. Media and folks keep talking about corruption in China as if it is a just discovered phenomenon. Going by the pantomine of raising the US government debt ceiling between GOP-White House-Democrats last weekend, one cannot help, but sense that the Chinese model of doing business is more expedient – a prefernce of western capitalists – they go into various deals.
This is where corruption in China begins, with western capital- like in everything about valuation, US capitalists in particular, the investment bankers and the Funds are guilty of promoting corruption.
What can the PRC government do, but to embrace the on-slaught of capitalism to the fullest – the classic communist strategy of encirclement.Do not forget Mao’s thoughts on sacrificing his people for a grand objective.
Yes, collateral damage in the form of lives and integrity of social fabric is broken, the obscenity of the noveau rich in China is compelling and revulsive in quarters, but this is not for others to grapple with – only the Chinese themselves can decide, if they want to accept this defacto evolution of their society into an entrenched class system as it was during the Koumintang era of Chiang Kai Shek, or they want to emulate something worse – the vultures, voyeurism of Wall Street?

Posted by About-Face | Report as abusive